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Gabriel and Remiel led the Remnant through Shaula Wood, forming a fence of men lest Belphegor's force doubled back to assail the Lael- ites carrying the Ark. But Rosh stated his fear they would go astray in the forest and find they had somehow overshot Belphegor's yeng.

Gabriel replied, "Your God and mine has charged both myself and my kinsyeng Remiel that not another man or woman gathered by Lael shall die at the hands of Belphegor, nor shall they die at the hands of one of hyz thralls. Rosh, have you not seen the hand of God in all that has happened today?"

At Gabriel's rebuke Rosh fell silent. Rosh, whom God himself had cho- sen to replace Lael as the high priest, was deeply ashamed that even he had lapsed in unbelief.

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"Orobas, Surgat and Ukobach are all in place, Lord Belphegor," Malphas told hym after having seen to their disposition hymself. "They will raise the alarm at the first sign of the humans."

"But what of Onoskelis and Eisheth? Have they returned?" Malphas re- plied in the negative. Belphegor said, "If you encounter those two yeng again, Malphas, I trust they will meet an interesting end?"

"Yeng of the Saiph League can be perfidious, Lord," said hy, "but the manner of their demise shall teach other would-be hirelings with a sword what they must reap by such incompetence."

Satisified, Belphegor turned hyz attention to the interesting thing hy had going on hymself. Elam was suspended from a tree, with the frayed ends of two ropes twisted around the base of his thumbs. There was no hope of slipping out, as his thumbs had become two bloated purple bulbs. Elam had never felt agony remotely like it before. His back and legs were lashed to a straight log, and this log and all his body weight was suspended by two slender points.

He already told Belphegor the Ark was in his tent, and had described his tent to the finest detail.

Belphegor said, "That is no help to me. Your brothers must have moved the Ark by now. I need to know where it is going so I can arrange a suitable greeting."

Elam desperately tried to explain how there was no telling where the Ark went but he couldn't put the words together.

Belphegor raised an eyebrow. 'You are a strong man, Elam, but your suffering must be at the limit of your endurance. I assure you this torment can be pushed far beyond your endurance, yet endure it you must."

Hy displayed a stone carried in something like a cradle of rope. The stone focused the mind of Elam. He said, "There's an image on the Ark...it turns of itself...God steers the Ark..."

Belphegor thought about that. Yes, Chokhmah might have done such a thing to protect the tablet. Good, it took at least four Laelites out of play. So it was time to bring things to a head, Belphegor thought. Hy draped the stone and its net of rope around a stubby branch on the log strapped to Elam's back and the weight pulled one of the man's thumbs out of its socket, then another. Elam began to scream continu- ously.

Elam's screams steered the men of the Remnant through Shaula Wood to the place where he was being tormented and they ran into Belphegor's picket of yeng. Their shouts of warning went unheard by reason of the noise made by Elam. Remiel used hyz talent to shred their cloaks.

A wad of cloak wound up in Ukobach's mouth. Surgat and Orobas found sections of their cloaks wrapping around their heads to both make them blind and stifle any further cries. This was utterly beyond their ex- perience and effectively sliced the three of them from the fight.

"There is no cause to slay these three yeng," said Remiel. "You can release them later, one at a time. Let them make their way home to the Saiph League, where their tongues may wag. It will be a generation before any come against the Remnant gathered by Lael."

Gabriel left Abner, Asa, Josiah and Tobiah to bind the three yeng un- der guard and take them west toward their camp. Only Rosh and Jemuel remained with Gabriel and Remiel to advance on their enemy. Elam's every scream weighed heavily on the heart of his brothers.

They were all relieved to find only Belphegor and Malphas with Elam. Even Gabriel expected two more.

"Cut the man down!" hy said in the Semitic little changed in Heaven which men from Earth understood no longer. Belphegor hefted hyz blade and replied, "As you wish."

Rosh saw that Belphegor was about to pierce Elam rather than cut him free, so he loosed an arrow at the center of hyz back. The range was so short he could not avoid striking an organ, but this didn't suit Remiel, who bent the arrow higher, toward a shoulder blade. Belphegor was not mortally wounded but in hyz shock and pain hy released hyz blade and fell to the forest floor.

Malphas moved closer to hyz lord, shifting the line of hyz own blade between Gabriel and Remiel. Hy said, "Servants of Chokhmah and Binah you name yourself, yet you hide behind the humans you claim you have come to protect!"

This was garbage to make either Gabriel or Remiel angry enough to fight. Gabriel wasn't having any of it and frankly che could barely hear hym over Elam's screams.

Gabriel could feel Remiel's power tugging on his sword, so it was a matter of letting go and watching it bury itself into the chest of Malphas with no fanfare. Belphegor saw it.

"Disappointed?" Gabriel asked. "I need Elam down from that tree, not to jerk off."

Jemuel and Rosh advanced beyond Malphas' dying body to cut their elder brother from the tree. As they did they grew sickened by how the weight of the stone and the log and Elam's own weight, plus the swell- ing induced by the torment, had deformed his hand, possibly for life.

Remiel knelt over Belphegor and held the arrow where it entered hyz back steady with hyz talent while he bent the shaft with hyz hand. Belphegor was not suffering pain from the wound anymore. As a seraph hy shared the same internal remedy for unnecessary pain as any B'nei Elohim.

Remiel and Gabriel gently rolled Belphegor until hy was face up, then helped hym to sit up.

"Forgive the touch, Lord," said Gabriel. "It pains B'nei Elohim to see a seraph in such straits, no matter what unfortunate disagreements might exist between we and you."

Remiel dropped to hyz knees to put hyz eyes on something of a level with those of Belphegor. Hy said, "Your mistake, if you will forgive the presumption, Lord, is that you do not think Chokhmah to be war- like. But the B'nei Elohim are Chokhmah's answer to the Eyes of Keter."

When Elam was free of his bonds he gave a shout of rage at Belphegor and pawed at the blade sticking out of the corpse of Malphas with use- less hands. "I'll kill hym! Look what hy did to me!"

"Hy is of the seraphim," said Gabriel. "You will get on your knees even as you see we have done."

Elam saw Rosh with a bow and said, "You swore to obey me as though I were our father. String an arrow, therefore, and finish this one named Belphegor."

"Your brother agreed to follow me", said Gabriel, "and I forbid it! Killing captives of war is hateful to the B'nei Elohim."

Rosh paused as he weighed his obligations for a time, then threw down his bow and sank to hyz knees before the seated Belphegor even as Ga- briel and Remiel had done.

Disgusted, Elam turned to Jemuel and said, "Brother, as you love me, kill this angel who put me to torment."

Jemuel made his choice with less hesitation than Rosh and extended his blade.

Gabriel and Remiel rose to their feet between him and Belphegor. Remi- el said, "Jemuel! How fortunate our God has charged that none of the Remnant shall die, or you would be dying now."

"Listen to none of their lies," Elam told him. "They have not the Ark. The will of God is unknown to them."

"For one day in every year the high priest among you hears the oracles of God," said Gabriel. "How much more so do we who dwell ever in the very presence of God know his mind!"

Elam hissed "Do it!"

Jemuel moved toward the captive with his blade arched to decapitate hym. And Remiel, without touching the man, twisted the blade out of his hand and hurled it out of reach.

"We have no power of our own but that which is given by God," Remiel told him. "Now you are disarmed by that same power, Jemuel. Do you hold yourself answered that killing the Lord Belphegor is not the will of our God?"

Neither Jemuel nor Elam made reply, but they kept their place, as Ga- briel and Remiel were armed and stood fast against them.

Gabriel was angered almost beyond speech. Che said, "I thought to leave Lord Belphegor in your keeping, to be treated well until such time when hy could leave of hyz own power, but I see the faithfulness of Lael was not passed to his sons. We will take the Lord ourselves. A curse lies upon you, Jemuel, for you would do a thing to make the name of our God a reproach among elohim and angels and nephilim and men. On the shoulder of Mount Naratha the sword of your foes shall go through the camp, and you shall be cut down in the flower of youth. And you shall remember this doom, and beg Elam to steer the Remnant far from Mount Naratha where the Ark wills not to go, but pestilence and famine and the threat of enemies shall drive the people thither, where you shall perish before your sons take wives.

"Also a curse lies on you, Elam, for you ordered your captive be slain out of hand, which thing is hateful to God, whether the captive be a seraph or one of the ishim. You crave to lead the Remnant, yet you shall be driven into Eliath Wood to wander for a generation. There you shall yearn to be free yet your enemies shall hem you in, and you shall die never seeing the sons of your sons. The third son of Lael shall lead the Remnant to a land which is choice above all other lands in Haaretz, and the people shall be known by his name."

Then Gabriel and Remiel, who would have preferred to leave the Remnant with friendly farewells rather than angry curses, knelt once again close to Belphegor. A fold- door materialized to port the three of them to Nyduly Wood in Hamar, leaving only a hole in the ground.

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Strangers In Paradise